Lagaan: Elizabeth, More Than Just A Gori Extra

Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), She’s more than just a gori extra.

With the encouragement of theBollywoodFan, I decided to contribute to his Lagaan Week to celebrate the 9th anniversary of the release of the epic film.  In order to develop something that would resemble a worthwhile blog post, I knew I had to re-watch Lagaan, since it had been a couple of years since I’d last seen it.  It was my third time seeing Lagaan, and I enjoyed it even more than I did the first 2 viewings, which I believe speaks to the quality of the film.  In case you don’t already know, Lagaan is about Indian villagers challenged by some British imperialists to a game of cricket, and if the villagers win they would not have to pay the Brits the unfair land taxes, known as Lagaan.   Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) is a one-dimensional scoundrel, and this cruel man offers a wager he believe the Indians will never win.  His naive, yet kind-hearted sister, Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley),  arrives to India and begins to take in the scenes with a curious and open mind.  I love seeing  white people pop up in Indian films, since I can pretend they are me!  I can also think  hey, I can one day break into the Indian Film Industry, see, there’s a white person too! So with this delusional thinking, naturally I was fascinated to see Elizabeth.

Despite not knowing Hindi, she quickly sizes things up and all too soon she witnesses her brother’s  maniacal ways.

I do enjoy seeing the word “Whitey” it the subtitles, so I show it to you a lot in this post, here’s a start:

Lagaan (2001) is the movie that taught me about cricket, a little game I’d previously called gilli danda back in my village in India.

Wait, sorry, no village, no India, I keep loosing track that I’m from America and am not Indian, please pardon me.  When I was in contact with theBollywoodFan about Lagaan week, I said I’d like to take the angle of writing about Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), the gori extra since I’m always making note of my white sisters surfacing in Bollywood films;  theBollywoodFan, wise beyond his years, calmly replied, “She’s more than a gori extra,” and I realized he was right!  She is more than your typical gori extra, she not only plays a bigger role, but she also serves to bridge the cultural gap between the different groups, and helps us think, Hey, wait just one minute, not all these Britishers are so bad after all.  When the villagers are watching the game of cricket, Bhuvan ends up catching a ball out in the field which leads to a confrontation with some of the British players, that ultimately develops into the bet being made over the cricket game and the land tax.

Elizabeth realized this bet is unfair since the villagers are sure to lose a game they don’t know when pitted against people who have a full understanding and longtime experience with the game, not to mention endless leisure hours to play since the Indians are toiling away to make them rich.  She sets out to try to right her brother’s wrong by helping the villagers understand the finer points of the game.

So the teaching and leaning begins…

Recruitment: Initially Elizabeth teaches a small group the game, but there’s still the obstacle of establishing a full team who will be up for the extreme challenge.  Finally a diverse group of people are gathered from the village and surrounding areas since they have a common interest in eliminating the unfair tax by their common enemy, the British.

I learned all I need to know about cricket here:

Jealousy: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is a young village woman who has her eye on Bhuvan so it follows that she starts to get concerned about all the time he spends with the white memsahib.

Cultural exchange: Elizabeth helps to teach some of the finer points of cricket to the villagers, and in turn Bhuvan teaches her something about the Hindu legend of Radha & Krishna.


Elizabeth is enamoured by the festival and is even further taken in by Dandiya Raas number  Kaise Na Jale with music by A.R.  Rahman, playback singers Asha Bhonsle,  Udit Narayan, Vaishali.

Confession: As it turns out, Gauri wasn’t far off on her women’s intuition because Elizabeth, who has managed to learn Hindi in a few days, confesses her pyaar love for Bhuvan.  Luckily she’s able to save face since the part where she really lays it on the line is in English, so Bhuvan doesn’t understand, yet I think he may suspect it.

Fantasy: The tune O Rey Chori,  (playback singers Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, Vasundhara Das) includes Elizabeth’s fantasy of what it would be like if Bhuvan was in her British world, or if she was in his Hindustani duniya.


Elizabeth is caught: A double crossing villager with an ulterior motive  informs Captain Russell that his sister is helping the villagers to learn cricket.  With shame, I admit I did find Captain Russell quite handsome, despite his evil deeds. Do you?

If I can answer for Elizabeth here, I’d tell her brother that it would be the delicious food and the Indian Film Industry that would allow her to turn against her brother, but I suspect she may say something about the cool Dandiya Raas dances and doing the right thing in the face of injustice.
The BIG Game: The stakes are high, and Aamir Khan’s Bhuvan conveys this beautifully here.  I believe Khan is very talented and expressing emotion through his eye, and this is a perfect example. Dekh!  I bet you’re even crying looking at the photos.  I am.



Elizabeth watches the game, worried about the outcome, rooting all the while for the villagers.  I suppose in Indian English one would say she was chewing her brains and taking much tension isn’t it?  In case you haven’t seen Lagaan and don’t know the outcome of the game *SPOILER ALTER*

There are winners and losers. Elizabeth sees the joyful embrace between Bhuvan and Gauri at the end of the match, and instantly understands that her fantasy will never be a reality.

Bittersweet ending: She can’t have Bhuvan, but she can play Radha to his Krishna.

Finally, you may be wondering how all those gori cheerleaders made their way to India, and I’m here to tell you that  Bhuvan and Lagaan are the reason.  When Elizabeth returned to England, she started the  first cricket cheerleading squad, and there after tradition has held that all IPL cheerleaders are to be white only.

And speaking of Lagaan and the IPL, Did you see A. R. Rahman perform at the 2010 closing ceremonies?   

After exploring the part of Elizabeth in Laagan, I am tempted to do a series on the pantheon of gori extra patron saints of Bollywood.

My personal favorite is the character Christina ( Barbara Lindley) from  Purab Aur Paschim (1970).

Opps! sorry, she’s been objectified as only a gori cold be, let me get a better picture of her….Ah, here, that’s better!

And then there’s Katherine (Antonia Bernath) in  Kisna: The Warrior Poet (2005)-yeah, I admit I saw it! So WHAT!?!

Sue McKinley (Alice Patten) of Rang De Basanti (2006); and most recently Sarah (Sarah Thompson) of Raagneeti (2010).

And like all good Bollywood films, allow me to leave you with some inspiration, courtesy of Bhuvan…and the moral of the story is:

This post was so long, time to roll the credits…

For more on Third Annual Lagaan Week: Ninth Anniversary Special, click over to theBollywoodFan-ji’s blog.